There was a time, when I was a young mom, that I would look at the teens and young adults of families that I knew and inwardly critique the parenting styles I observed, assuming that this or that application of this or that technique produced this or that outcome. Nowadays, I simultaneously chuckle and groan at my naivete. If only it were so simple!
As my family and, most importantly, as I have grown, I’ve realized over and over and over again that the automatic guarantee of a particular technique of parenting simply doesn’t exist. Every child is unbelievably unique, every parent as well, and then throw in a million generations of genetic makeup and present circumstance and you’ve got yourself one whopper of a project to unravel. How to raise my children to glorify God? So that they want to glorify God, do his bidding, and spend eternity with him?
Connecting the dots of the readings and psalm for today, we can find the answer. It’s not easy, it’s not simple, and it takes a lifetime of mess-ups, do-overs, and gritty humility.
Loving in deed and truth as opposed to only in words and speech, as St. Paul asks of us in the second reading, is key. We can tell our children to be charitable and kind, but we ourselves must also model it. Consistently acting out our love of God and neighbor is difficult anyway, but in the midst of a toddler (or teenage *smirk*) tantrum, it can be downright heroic. This loving of others takes many many forms: patiently holding our tongues as said toddler (or teen) spirals out of control, emotions and hormones raging, being their steady rock of unconditional love, not taking their moods and fits personally, and weathering their storms with them. But it could also be as simple as packing an extra Gatorade for their upcoming game, a few more minutes of cuddle time before bed, or a favorite fast-food treat for dinner. (Okay, that last one helps mom too! *grin*)
Showing love in deed and truth in our friendships and interactions outside the home forms the expectations of our own kids’ friendships. If they see us gossiping about other families and their children and reacting uncharitably to their hardships and struggles, it only promotes discord and strife amongst the community. But if we instead give the benefit of the doubt to our friends, assist those who struggle, bring our point of view around to theirs, and constantly coach our children through the pitfalls of human nature and relationships, then we are setting them on the path of truth.
All of this requires strict adherence to the two greatest commandments: to love God as well as our neighbor. If we can do these things, we will remain in him and he in us. And if we can also allow our loving Father to “prune” out the dead branches of sin and selfishness, then will our lives bear much fruit.